Like many artists, I have been struggling to accept the reality that for better or worse, the music industry has forever been changed by the internet...
I'm lucky enough to be part of a genre who’s listeners still buy CDs and merchandise at shows and online. However, today's popular music streaming platforms, as convenient as they are for the user, leave the artist (especially independent artists) completely disenfranchised and deprived of what once made up a large part of their income, the recorded music itself!
The tragic irony is that an artist's music is almost seen as a 'loss leader' in the hope of making money back from live ticketed shows or selling merch. This is a sickening blow to those same artists who not only invest many months and years into crafting beautiful music but also much of their disposable income. Fortunately, I have recently received some hopeful comments from audience members that have approached me at live shows offering to buy a CD, even though they don’t own a CD player… They tell me they want to support my music because they feel sorry for the indepentdent artist making a pittance once the giant streaming platforms have taken the lion's share! As encouraging as it is to realise people are awakening to the current reality of big tech, where the listener is tracked and the artist comes last, selling CDs to people who probably won’t listen to them doesn’t seem like the best solution to support artists.
We can do better!
If only we could send payments, large or small, from listener to artist, instantly, we would start to see more direct engagement between fan and artist and breathe some life back into the suffocating music industry.
The technology is here, but it is not evenly distributed. It’s called the lightning network. A couple of media platforms already leveraging the lightning network and peer to peer payments technology are Wavlake and Fountain App.
(Read Wavlake's brilliant in-depth blog on value for value here)
In principal, the idea is simple, the listener can stream money to the artist as they listen, or make a one off payment after they’ve listened for free…
‘Wait!’ I here you say, ‘how could you expect to make money if people can listen to your music for free..?’ To that question, I will direct you to a great article by Gigi called ‘How Value for Value Fixes The Monetization of Information’ and the website value4value.info. To quote another of Gigi's great articles
'Copying something at zero marginal cost leads to a virtually infinite supply of that thing. It doesn't matter if that thing is a JPG, a blog post, or an mp3 file. If it can be copied by anyone quickly, perfectly, and for basically free, the supply of said thing quickly approaches infinity. We move from the analog world of scarcity into the digital world of abundance. Markets don't work in this world. In the words of Jaron Lanier: "Markets become absurd as supply approaches infinity."
"Trying to make digital files uncopyable is like trying to make water not wet," to quote Bruce Schneier.
When it comes to JPGs, mp3 files, blog posts, or similar digital artifacts, we have to stop pretending that the files themselves are scarce or precious. They aren't. The humans that create them are. Consequently, we have to find new ways of pricing and monetizing things. New ways of making sure that the value that is generated accrues to the humans that are responsible for the added value, without imprisoning information or users—without trying to make water not wet.'
In my humble opinion, the value of a streaming platform doesn't just come from the shinny user interface, the algorithm suggesting similar songs, or the server farms it owns allowing it to service millions of listeners. It comes predominantly from the content intself that is on the platform, the music created by the artists... We need a means to better compensate the artist for that value the listener recieves... That means looks like it could be the lightning network...
But why do people need to use the lightning network to send the payment? Why couldn’t they use PayPal or a bank transfer..? It all comes down to transaction cost. PayPal for instance has a minimum fee of 30p, making small micro-transacions unviable. It also doesn’t settle instantly. The lightning network being peer to peer reduces transaction friction and cost allowing the artist to keep more of what is sent by the listener, which is how it should be!
One of the best resources to learn about all things lightning is the Kevin Rooke podcast...
I released my last single on the value for value model - you can see a breakdown of the numbers on my twitter thread here.
A look at streaming stats on Fountain App.
And a more in depth look at what value for value is.
This technology and the idea of value for value is nascent and in its very early stages. The lightning network being the worlds first open monetary network to settle value instantly, peer to peer and at near zero cost carries implications that won’t be fully realised for years to come. A company pushing the envelope and aiming to bring this tech to millions in a way familiar to us today is Strike (out in the US, soon to be released in the UK). When the day comes that everyone has a - lightning interoperable - wallet on their phone (whether they realise it or not), they’ll be able to send a small amount of value to an artist after they listen to a song they like with a click of a button, instantly! Until then, I will keep accepting cash at gigs and releasing all my music on value for value platforms first, because that puts the artist, not big tech, first. I hope others will follow me.
You can give value with lightning ⚡here⚡
*only use with small amounts